Watch CBS News

Three victims identified in deadly helicopter crash over Cabazon brush fire

Three victims identified in deadly helicopter crash over Cabazon brush fire
Three victims identified in deadly helicopter crash over Cabazon brush fire 03:19

The three men killed in a collision between two helicopters involved in firefighting efforts over a brush fire in Cabazon have been identified. 

According to Cal Fire,  the three men were identified as Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Bischof, Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez and pilot Tony Sousa.

CAL FIRE Assistant Chief Josh Bischof (left) and Captain Tim Rodriguez (right) were killed while fighting a fire in Riverside County. CAL FIRE

The deadly crash happened around 6 p.m. in the Cabazon area, just south of the Morongo Casino. The area near the collision site is situated just south of the 10 Freeway.

A Bell helicopter flown by a contract pilot with a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) division chief and a Cal Fire air captain on board was in an observer-coordinator role when it collided with a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter while battling the brush fire, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Dept. All three men on the Bell helicopter died. Two people on the Sikorsky, which landed safely, were uninjured.

The Sikorsky is believed to have been dropping water or fire retardant during the brush fire response. Fixed-wing aircraft were also part of the firefighting effort.

The fire reportedly began in a structure before spreading to 20 acres of surrounding brush. 

Authorities are working to determine the factors that led to the mid-air collision. National Transportation Safety Board officials were on scene investigating Monday morning.

Mid-air helicopter crash: aircraft details 02:01

Around 1 a.m. Monday, a giant American flag was hoisted between two extended fire-truck ladders as the bodies of the three men who were killed were escorted to the Riverside County Coroner's Office. Fire crews, California Highway Patrol officers and other first-responders stood and saluted the procession.

"This sacrifice should not be in vain, that we think about them, we will be there to support them," said Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher in a news conference.  "We will be there today, and I can express that [Riverside County Fire] Chief Bill Weiser has met with two of the family members and we are working on meeting with the third. We just want to let them know that we are there for them."

Cal Fire confirmed a total of six aircraft in total had responded to the firefighting effort Sunday.

"This area has a lot of the light, flashy fuels that are becoming very prevalent with this fire season, where we have a lot of these annual grasses and brush, they're getting five, six feet tall," said Cal Fire Public Information Officer Rob Roseen. "You combine that with the winds that we do have in this area, it has a dramatic effect on fires, which is why we utilize firefighting aircraft to stop these fires, to help protect homes and preserve life."

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden released a statement:

"Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the helicopter pilot, and the brave California firefighters, who tragically lost their lives Sunday. Every day, firefighters run toward danger, while everyone else runs the other way, because being a firefighter is not what they do -- it's who they are.  This tragedy is yet another example, of their incredible bravery. As wildfires have intensified in recent years, more and more firefighters have put themselves in harm's way to defend our families and communities from out-of-control fires. That's why my administration has invested historic funding to address the underlying causes of wildfires -- like record droughts caused by climate change. We owe it to our firefighters and their families to do everything we can to prevent these dangerous fires in the first place. Three families of three brave Americans have an empty seat around the dinner table tonight, and our hearts go out to them."

The Esperanza Fire wildfire blaze in 2006 in the same area killed five firefighters.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.